Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kunin: The American Dream

The American Dream has been the back bone of my life story. In June of 1940, my mother, brother and I took the train from Zurich, Switzerland to Genoa , Italy to board the SS Manhattan, bound for America. A little more than a week later, we waved to our first greeter — the Statue of Liberty. It was war time. My widowed mother took this brave step because she wanted what all immigrant families have wanted for their children — a better life in America. We found it. This country has been generous to us, far beyond our dreams. Never did my mother imagine that her daughter would become Governor of a state called Vermont, or that she would make her homeward journey to Switzerland years later, as the American Ambassador.

That is why it is hard for me to accept that upward mobility isn’t as powerful as we thought it was, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Immigrant families continue to display somewhat more success than native born families in stepping up to the next rung of the ladder but upward mobility is a hard climb, and it’s getting harder.

When we arrived in America, first generation immigrants often earned more than non immigrants, but there has been a sharp decline since. There is better news for second generation immigrant workers. In 2000, second generation immigrants still made 6.3 percent more than non-immigrants, though that’s down from 1970 when that differential was 14.6 percent and from 1940 when it was 17.8 percent.

It’s no surprise to learn that the realization of the American Dream depends on the country of origin and the level of education. The percentage of immigrants from European countries and Canada has declined while the percentage from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean has increased from about half to nearly three quarters of all immigrants.

Regardless of where they come from immigrants today are drawn to America for almost the same reasons that brought my family to this country. Some come for safety, many come to escape poverty, and almost all who reach these shores share a vision of the American Dream. Our country, for all its challenges, continues to beckon families towards a better life as strongly it ever did. And America , for all its divisiveness, continues to do better when everyone’s American dream is realized The best way for me to express my gratitude to this country for enabling me and my family to become Americans, is to make certain that our doors do not close on this generation of immigrants and that the American Dream remains alive.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
Latest Stories